Grief is a concept that I am all too familiar with—though I have a very complicated understanding of it. My first funeral was when I was just a month old. But the first funeral I remember having an affect on me was for my Sunday school teacher when I was nine years old. I remember that being a particularly sad funeral because she died unexpectedly in her early twenties. As a child, you have this understanding that death comes to the old and sick. Our parents probably teach us that, as not to worry us or cause us to fear it. But there’s only so much the words of parents can console a kid when life has other plans. Her death opened my eyes to just how brief a lifetime can be and I remember fearing death for years after.
I often joke with people that I have been to more funerals than weddings—probably a 7:1 ratio at this point. It’s a sad fact, but well, that’s life—mine anyways. My maternal grandpa passed in 2003, followed a few months later by my paternal Aunt who was very much involved in every milestone of my childhood. She was just 60 years old, like my maternal grandma was at the time of her death. There was a much-welcomed break in funerals between 2003 and 2007 (in my family at least, I still mourned for a kid I knew who died at just 15). But 2007 would prove to make up for lost time. That was a rough year for me, as were most of my Middle School and High School years (I’ll probably elaborate more on that in future posts). In the cold of an Iowa winter, my dad passed away. He was only 59. Two months later, his step-mom (my grandma) passed. Then in October of 2007, my dad’s younger brother died. He was 55 years old. My family was in a state of robotic being by December. We welcomed the New Year—hoping that this sort of dreadful trend would be a chapter closed with the passing of another year.
But January 2nd, I got a call from my mom: “You aren’t going to believe this –pause- your grandpa died the other day. I’m sorry.” Life can be super gloomy. My Grandpa’s passing was probably the only one I can think of that could be “justified”. He was 89 years old, the oldest of eight. His wife had two miscarriages; he’d buried two brothers, two wives, and three children. It should be mentioned that my grandpa was a man of great faith and I think his religious beliefs got him through a lot in his life. In my mind, a man who’s ducked so many of life’s curveballs knows when to say when. I found out at the funeral that the last conversation my grandpa had was with my aunt who called to tell him his last surviving son was bleeding out internally and was in the ICU. Yep, I think he folded and he was ready.
More of my family members have died since 2008, bringing with it more funerals; more wondering of how much more we are made to take of loss and grief. I will say that it has gotten easier, for me at least. The reunions get smaller and smaller every year and more and more I treasure the family that is still here with us. I wish we all had more time.
There’s been one pretty recent loss in my life that has weighed on my conscience so heavily over the more than a year it’s been. Around the time I got pregnant, a person of great support in my life was diagnosed with cancer. A very stubborn and devious kind, come to find out. She was a new mom (in addition to her two other kids) with a new job, new husband, new house, new van, a new hairdo.. a general renewed sense of purpose in life. Then she had this malicious, destructive, selfish, darkness cast a shadow over her life and just hijack the shit out of it. I had wandered in thought a couple of times to the darkness of thinking that this cancer might just take her. But it was parallel to the thinking I do when I think of the possibility of dying in a car accident—it’s possible, not likely. Well, fuck cancer. I went to her memorial, 6 months pregnant. I saw some people I didn’t care to see ever again—but I wouldn’t have missed it. I saw her youngest son, not even two yet, weaving between all the legs congregated. And I can’t help but sob and think he may grow up to not remember his mom; his doting, loving, hard-working, genuine, kind, badass mother. Never has a death been more unjust.
Grief is strange. Grief is friendly. I grieve for my friend in a way I have never grieved before. But when I think of one person I grieve for, I end up grieving for them all. The emotion triggers the memories of every time I felt a leak sprung in my heart. It comes in waves, sometimes I let it swallow me up for awhile and I cry. Other times, I do my best to be ahead of the tide.